Tattoos and the Dental Professional

Tattoos have gone viral! It’s as though everyone has them, and in obvious places where the whole world is able to see. But, is it okay for the dental professional who is constantly interfacing with patients? As the culture changes with this new generation we see an increase in the things that were once considered “taboo.”  According to a report on Millennials by the Pew Research Center, “Nearly four-in-ten have a tattoo (and for most who do, one is not enough: about half of those with tattoos have two to five and 18% have six or more.)” Our generation is more adventurous but do standards still apply?

I have come across many predental and dental students asking if it would be okay to get tattoos on their arms and hands. I have also come across some dental students who already have them. I think a tattoo on the hand of a dental professional, or anyone in the medical field, gives the impression of unprofessionalism. The field is still quite conservative and medical professionals are usually held in high esteem. Patients perceive us as respectable, responsible and intelligent individuals and to me, a conspicuously placed tattoo questions that.

Yes, tattoos can be covered with long-sleeved shirts, lab coats and gloves. However, there comes a point when those garments are doffed and they will be seen. On the other hand, what if the tattoo signifies something very important to you like your religious beliefs, a cancer survivor’s ribbon, a memorial to a loved one? Is it okay then?

The fact is, tattoos are on the rise. The question that comes to mind is: where does one draw the line between cultural mores and the dental profession? I guess that the answer lies with the individuals and their choices; nevertheless, to me the standards of the profession need to be preserved.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

~Patrice Smith, Howard ’14

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Comments (26)

    • Anon

      Super old article, but “Tattoos show unprofessionalism.” How? Body art that a person is expressing him or herself with?

    • Emily

      Those who think tattoos show unprofessionalism tend to forget that those who are in dental or any medical school, will be working with patients who are going to be in a whole new generation who will accept art even more on a daily basis. Being offended by what is on someone’s body is just stupid. Mind your own business and worry about your own body.

  1. Registered Dental Hygienist. CA

    Tattoos are on the rise. They are no longer taboo. As they become more accepted, individuals are finally allowed to be who they want to be in a world that is so conformed. What the world should really focus on is not the way one dresses, not by their hair color, not by their skin color and not by their tattoos. Don’t judge a book by it’s cover. Please read this article:
    You may be surprised at how many “unprofessional” professionals are out there.

    I’m all for tattoos in the workplace. I feel as though tattoos being taboo is a thing of the past. In due time tattoos will be accepted everywhere. Think back to the days when it was taboo for women to wear bikinis, now it’s taboo for women to be seen in underwear, but not bikinis! It’s just a taboo of the times. As soon as the conservative baby boomers retire, Generation Y/Millenials will be the future CEOs and doctors of America… Tatted and all!

    • luz

      So that means we are allowed to have tattoos on our arms becuase i already have one on my arm and i really want to start going to school for dental assistant but im afriad of being denyed because of my tattoo. I dont think it would be fair though, just because you have a tattoo does not all of a sudden mean you are a bad influence person.

  2. Unknown

    I recently got a cross on the bottom corner of my hand .. its little but i’m concerned if this will tamper with my chances on becoming a dentist :/
    I mean i will be wearing gloves almost all the time and the time it does show it is just cross that i got for my own religious beliefs, really hope it doesn’t ruin my dream .

  3. vickie

    I recently went to the dentist and the hygienist told me that I had what they called a tattoo on my tooth. What is it?

    • T

      Amalgam tattoo…? That would be on the gum and be a result of previous dental work, such as restorations aka getting cavities filled.

  4. Amber

    It should not matter if a person has tattoos or not, as long as they are not offensive in general like gang signs, nudity, or extremely graphic. Having tattoos does NOT show your character, i.e., how professional you are, you intelligence or character. It is just simply, art work. If people cannot move past some color on your skin to see your personality, education and talent then I do not believe that the people with the tattoos are the ones with the problem.

  5. Amy

    This is the worst thing I have ever read. Tattoos give us ways to show how different we are and our life stories. This article really makes me mad. I am a hygiene student and shocking as it may be I have many tattoos. Oh and guess what I am also one of the more professional people in my program. Saying people in a certain profession should not have tattoos. Get your head on straight. Most people have them and appreciate them. They are great ways to start a conversation with someone. That’s my rant. Don’t be so judgmental. It’s ridiculous

  6. Mei

    The attitude that tattoos show unprofessionalism is pure ignorance. I have multiple tattoos and am highly intelligent. I am going to become a Dental Hygienist – something my own Dental Hygienist influenced me to do (knowing I have tattoos and saying only stuffy old people care about that). If a patient seriously judged me for that, I wouldn’t want to deal with them anyway. More so, if an employer judged me, I wouldn’t want to work for them. Professionalism is about knowing your stuff, hard work and good bedside manner. As long as you’re not dressed sleazy or what have you, there shouldn’t be an issue. It says more about the morals (or lack thereof) of those being so judgmental about tattoos on these professions than those that have them.

  7. Amber

    I got a full sleeve of tattoos when I was 18-19, my tattoos start at my should and go all the down, covering the top of my hand and letters and on my knuckles. I currently am a hair stylist, which is a field where body art is 100% accepted, but I want to go to school for dental assisting and I am scared that beacause of my tattoos, I will not be able to find a job. I agree that it shouldn’t matter, but if it does, then I don’t want to waste time and money going to school, only to not get a job later. I would like feedback from dentist or anyone who does hiring in a dental office, please let me know honestly if you would hire me without regard to my appearance, or if you would rather hire someone else. thanks!

    • charity

      Did anyone get back to you on that because I am wondering the same thing.

  8. Lucas

    I think it’s unfair to judge a person by how they want to express their image. However, this can only got to an extent. I’m a 19 year old male, straight, with diamond stud earrings and a tattoo of an arrow on my lower arm. I’ve also been accepted to a dental hygiene program in the fall and I don’t think my appearance should be an issue. My skills and abilities that got me accepted into the program are still there and won’t change because I want body art that is significant to me. I would never take things to the extreme and the extreme is where a line should be drawn. So really my point is that people should not stereotype others based on preconceived ideas from the past

  9. Nick

    It’s dental HYGIENE, as in clean. Please leave tattoos to auto mechanics, roofers, gangsta rappers, etc. People who call themselves hygienists should not be engaging in the filth and risks that are inherent in tattoos. If you want to expose yourself to Hepatitis, be my guest. But please keep your fingers out of my mouth, where you come into contact with saliva and possibly blood.

    • samantha

      Here is the deal, as a dental assistant or even a dental doctor, WE WEAR GLOVES! we wouldn’t get hired unless the dental office and hiring advisory thought it would be not only okay but safe. Body art has nothing to do with keeping your mouth clean. Also, giving someone any kind of diseases is a felony and could get someone in trouble for exposure of that particular disease to men and women of all ages. if i thought that my tattoos could get someone sick, i would not have applied for such jobs that would harm another body art has nothing to do with dental hygiene, nor should it concern you or your family.

    • Anna

      Nick, we come into contact with YOUR saliva and blood. Our blood and saliva have no way of coming into contact with yours.

  10. FutureDentalAssistant

    I have a single tattoo on my forearm and the job I currently have is very accepting of tattoos even though we work with children everyday. I want to know from multiple dentists or orthodontists if they would hire someone with a lion tattoo on their arm. I don’t want to waste money moving around trying to find a place that would be Accepting of tattoos.

  11. Adam

    Dude are you serious… Hygienists and dentists or basically most health professionals get exposed to std’s and uncleanliness all the time…. They take more risks. You have less risk getting something from a tattoo than being a hygienist who sticks their fingers in people with dirty mouths like yours all the time, and if you were so “clean” than you wouldn’t be getting your mouth or teeth worked on. Don’t be
    stupid. If you have tattoos and you are good at your job and act
    Professional having a tattoo shouldn’t ruin all that it’s just art. Read what I say carefully so your less ignorant

  12. Sebastian Dental Assistant

    Hello my name is Sebastian I have sleeves on both arms (japanese traditional) I had both parents in the dental field when I started in the dental field quickly meeting new doctors and working at several offices a month at one point I was working with 4 different doctors a month, tattoos usually depend on the doctor. In my experience I wear a long sleeve under my scrubs most doctors never even noticed or still dont even know I have tattoos because of the way I conduct myself at work, although one time I was washing my hands, obviously I rolled up my sleeves and the doctor was so shocked to see my tattoos not because he was against them but because he would of never expected me too have full sleeves on both arms, he didn’t even care that I was tattooed but he did want me to keep them out of sight (working chairside, or in the front office.) But his judgement on my character never changed. All depends on skills you have to offer, how you perceive yourself at work, and most of all the doctor.

  13. Hrachelle

    I start a dental assisting program in the spring. I want to get a “Strength” tattoo on my wrist because I was in a car accident 2 years ago and am now paralyzed from the chest down. I’m afraid my tattoo will interfere with schooling and my future career.

  14. Ashley

    I have hand tattoos and arm tattoos all where they are visible and still never had a problem getting a job as a dental assistant. I’m now contemplating going back to school for dentistry, but I was concerned since I will be the actual dentist. I do believe though in due time it won’t matter at all. But it does depend on what type of tattoo’s your getting in those visible areas.

  15. Argiene Castillo

    After skimming through the feed here I am feeling positive about a future in dentistry and at the same time will own a full sleeve tattoo. I believe that it will be more accepted in the future generations but I have yet to see a DDS with full sleeve tattoos. I am a dental assistant in the US Navy and from my experience is I can see assistants who also have tattoos coming from the civilian workers and providers who have a taste in permanent skin art.


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